Good news for people who love football but hate when the people who play it get paid for their work: college football is coming back to videogames. EA Sports announced today that they’re working on their first college football game since 2013, and that they’ve reached a deal with the Collegiate Licensing Company to include “more than 100 institutions” in the new game. Expect to see some of the top conferences and schools in college football in the game, which doesn’t yet have a release date or even a launch window. ESPN reports that it isn’t expected out in 2021.
EA published 21 college football games between 1993 and 2013, first under the Bill Walsh College Football name, before eventually settling on NCAA Football. NCAA Football 14 was the last installment of that series, as legal issues over player likenesses drove the NCAA to end the relationship. Quick primer: college athletes can’t get paid despite putting their bodies on the line and earning millions for their schools, and schools that try to pay players or potential recruits under the table risk huge penalties, up to and including having entire athletic programs suspended for multiple seasons. Among the many ways the NCAA and its member institutions profited from college football was that annual EA Sports game, which didn’t include the names of real players but did feature their likenesses and stats to give videogame players as realistic a product as possible. An antitrust lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon threatened to blow open the whole “not paying student athletes” scheme that the NCAA relies upon, and so they ended their deal with EA Sports, thus ending the NCAA Football series in the process.
That was eight years ago. The new series, which will be called EA Sports College Football, is being made without the NCAA’s cooperation. EA has teamed up once more with the Collegiate Licensing Company in order to get the rights to team names, mascots, specific school traditions, and more. So whenever the game comes out, you can probably expect the Georgia Bulldogs and Uga to be in there, but don’t expect a roster that’s obviously based on that season’s real players.
EA hasn’t said which one of its studios will make the game, but it seems like a solid bet that Tiburon will be involved. That’s the Florida-based studio that has been in charge of the Madden franchise since 1995, and was behind NCAA Football from 1998 to 2013.
It seems like an auspicious time to bring back a college football game, as the debate over compensation for NCAA players has been more prominent than ever during the pandemic. Even with EA Sports College Football expected to not base its roster on real players, it’ll still be profiting from the decades of hard work that unpaid students put in to building the value and reputation of these teams. You can’t have the Michigan Wolverines without the young men who actually played the games, who never saw any (legal) compensation outside of an education. At least the fans will be getting something out of it, especially every non-Alabama SEC diehard who will now be able to see their team finally beat Nick Saban for the championship.